A crippling arms race between Pakistan and India must “come to an end” and the two rivals should settle their conflict over Kashmir, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told The Daily Telegraph on Friday.
In his first interview since taking office, Nawaz spoke with passion about the need to achieve peace with his neighbour and reduce the burden of defence spending.
India and Pakistan have been locked in confrontation over Kashmir ever since Britain left the sub-continent in 1947. Today, India deploys an army of 1.1 million men, Pakistan has 550,000 regular soldiers and the two rivals have amassed nuclear arsenals.
“We’ve been in a very unfortunate arms race with India ever since partition and I think we are a very unfortunate country from that point of view,” said Nawaz Sharif.
“Both Pakistan and India have wasted so much money on military hardware, building up their defences against each other. They’ve been running after MiG-29s, we’ve been running after F-16s; they’ve been buying more tanks and we’ve been buying more military hardware. We’ve been running after submarines – how expensive they are! – and then of course India was the first one to tread the nuclear path,” the PM said.
“I think this must come to an end. The money wasted in defence should have gone into social sectors – it should have gone into education, it should have gone into health care.”
Nawaz added: “I hope that both countries realise this, realise these mistakes that we’ve made. I think the main objective of making peace with each other is to get rid of all that. We’ve got to sit with India and discuss this matter.”
Last year, defence and debt repayments swallowed 54 percent of Pakistan’s federal budget; education received less than 2 percent. Nawaz said he wanted to cut defence, but added: “This cannot be one-sided – we have to do it together. India would also have to do it.”
Since Nawaz took office in June, skirmishes begun at the Line of Control which affected the Pak-India relations. As for whether the Pakistan Army would accept peace with India and a budget cut, the premier said: “We’re all on one page. There’s only one page and that is the page of the government of Pakistan.”
Both neighbours should stop the game of mutual recrimination, he added. “Anything going wrong in India – they blame us; anything going wrong in Pakistan – we blame them. I think this blame game has to stop.”
But Nawaz then hinted that India was behind terrorism inside Pakistan, saying: “Our sources also tell me that there is a hidden hand of India in certain disturbances going on in Pakistan and the acts of terrorism which take place in many parts of Pakistan.”
Nawaz urged the need for reconciliation with India, making clear that his election victory was a mandate for peace with India.
“There will be progress and there has to be progress,” he said.
“We didn’t have any India-bashing slogans in the elections. We don’t believe in such slogans. There have been such slogans in the past — 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago — but not now. In fact, I very clearly spoke about good relations with India even before the elections were happening.”
Nawaz acknowledged that security was also essential for economy. “We are fighting all these elements because look at what they’ve done in different parts of the country,” he said. “More than 40,000 people have lost their lives in this battle against terror.”
On Pakistan’s relations with US, he called the drone campaign on the Afghan frontier as the top “irritant”, adding: “The drones are counter-productive, they are violating our sovereignty and we must respect each other’s territorial sovereignty and if the drones are challenging our sovereignty this is not a fair thing.”